People want peace of mind. In the battle between one decision and another, most will choose the one with the best odds of delivering the expected result.

I am a habitual user of Rotten Tomatoes, the online reviews site for movies and tv shows. It’s gotten to a point where I do not watch a movie if it doesn’t meet certain review ratings. I’m very rarely steered wrong.

If I had Rotten Tomatoes when I began paying to watch movies, I would have saved myself thousands of dollars and countless wasted hours. As a consumer I was up against the mega power of an agency somewhere who’s sole job was to convince me that I had to see a particular movie, regardless of whether it was good or not. So they’d put out a three minute movie preview that was nothing short of spectacular, full of incredible highlights and a voiceover touting glowing reviews from unknown publications somewhere.

I’d get excited and head on over to the theater, park my car, pay for the movie, pay ten bucks for some popcorn and a coke, sit down in my seat and brace myself for awesomeness.

Somewhere midway through the movie I’d realize I’d been duped.

This wouldn’t be the last time it happened either.

“Don’t spend the money – wait for it to come out on video….if at all.” Every once in awhile someone I knew would be duped before me. Without the internet I would have to be lucky enough to bump into someone, start a conversation about movies and discover the money I was about to spend was better spent elsewhere. I’d been warned. At other times I’d get some information about a movie I wasn’t the least bit interested in seeing that would inspire me to check it out – because it had been vetted already by a peer.

We live in a time when consumers can share information in nanoseconds. Gone are the days when you had to experience something prior to having a clear understanding of what you were getting into.

If a restaurant has amazing graphics and runs advertising showcasing their award winning meals, remarkably friendly staff and energetic environment, you may be interested – but now you can see what a dozen of your peers have to say in seconds. And fortunately or unfortunately for the business, consumers are going to trust the reviews of other consumers before believing a word of what you have to say yourself.

As humans we are hardwired to avoid being trapped or put in dangerous situations. It’s in our DNA to be on the lookout for anything that could bring us harm, in any form. In the days of the cave man this may have meant a marking on a tree by someone who went before you to let you know there was a Saber Tooth Tiger in the area and not to get too enamored by the quiet beauty surrounding you.

Today, it’s our peers online warning us not to eat the sushi because little Billy became sick last week and five other people who eat a ton of sushi don’t think this is as fresh as the advertising says it is.

It cuts both ways. For the business that all too often is overlooked, with a limited ad budget, online reviews provide an opportunity for consumers to let others know about the “hidden gem” in the neighborhood.

If you don’t have a process for getting reviews and testimonials, responding to unhappy customers BEFORE they go online and simply listening to your customers – then you are going to be losing a lot of business. If it’s a competition between you and a competitor, and they have testimonials and reviews providing assurance and proof and you do not – you lose. Even if you are better than the competition, you will lose if they provide more peace of mind and trust, in advance, than you.

Of all the things businesses spend time, money and energy evaluating and deciding – this is an easy one. Put a process in place to make sure every single customer knows you are listening. Ensure they understand how important and appreciated a review or testimonial is to your business. Make sure you solve problems and get out in front of any unhappy customers so they know you care and you are there to turn the experience around.

These things are easy. This isn’t deciding which ad to run in next week’s paper or the keywords for a pay per click campaign. It’s listening to customers and encouraging them to share their experience. And while this is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, thing your business can do; (not to mention one of the least expensive, highest ROI activities) – it’s overlooked more times than not.

From this day forward you have to ask yourself if you want your business to be trusted or not. If the answer is yes, then start the process of building online reviews and testimonials. You’ll find that you will not only be trusted by more people, you’ll make a lot more money.